Trailblazers 2024 Webinar Recap: Empowering Women in AEC

The Trailblazers 2024 webinar, held in celebration of International Women’s Day, gathered AEC industry professionals Meagan Camp, Julie Shaffer, Lindsay Diven, and Rachelle Ray to share insights and experiences from the world of Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) marketing. The event aimed to shine a light on the significant contributions of women in AEC while also addressing challenges and opportunities for growth. Here’s a brief recap of the discussions, questions, and empowering narratives shared throughout the event. 

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Meet the 2024 Trailblazers

Trailblazers 2024 provided a platform for top AEC marketers including:

Host, Meagan Camp

Meagan is the owner of The Modern Take and Former Director of Experiences at SMPS. She started her B2B digital agency in 2017 after 15 years of being a professional writer and editor and now works with firms around the country to create intentional and powerful story-driven content & social media strategies. Meagan also helps to facilitate training, present webinars, and write about social media in the A/E/C industry. 

Panelist, Julie Shaffer, CPSM

Julie is passionate about helping AEC marketers maximize Adobe design tools to expedite content layout without sacrificing good design. An Adobe Certified Instructor for Creative Cloud Design & Layout Solutions, an award-winning designer, and a recent inductee to the SMPS North Texas Hall of Fame, Julie has spent more than two decades honing her skills to deliver exceptional results to her clients while advancing the role of AEC marketers through dynamic training sessions.

Panelist, Lindsay Diven, CPSM

Lindsay is the founder of Marketers Take Flight and Marketing Manager at Full Sail Partners. She has spent more than 17 years working with architecture and engineering firms to build sales and marketing strategies that resulted in increased revenue growth and profit. She also hosts her own AEC Marketing Strategies podcast, Marketers Take Flight, and teaches digital and content marketing strategies through online courses and virtual training.

Panelist, Rachelle Ray
Rachelle is the owner of RMR Consulting and Co-founder of Proposal Industry Experts and has spent over fifteen years working exclusively on AEC proposals. She founded RMR Consulting after recognizing a need for flexible proposal management to address the fluctuating proposal needs across the industry. Her clients include small studio design firms, multidiscipline engineering firms, and general contractors.

Finding Your Voice: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

One of the main topics that our panelists and audience discussed included imposter syndrome in the workplace. The panelists delved into the meaning of imposter syndrome, a phenomenon where individuals, particularly women, downplay their accomplishments or hesitate to pursue opportunities due to self-doubt.

Lindsay Diven shared her perspective stating,

“There have definitely been instances where I’ve questioned my qualifications or felt the need to downplay my achievements. However, I’ve learned to focus on the value I bring to the table and the positive impact of my work.”

Rachelle Ray also offered valuable advice from her own experiences; stating the need to self-advocate.

“Women often shy away from self-promotion. It’s crucial to celebrate your wins and advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to showcase your expertise and the value you contribute to projects.”

Julie Shaffer, drawing from her own experience working in AEC remarked,

“While women excel in communication and marketing roles within AEC firms, the numbers are far lower when it comes to leadership positions. We need to bridge this gap and encourage more women to step into leadership roles.”

Throughout the conversation, panelist Rachelle highlighted a story where she was referred to as “the marketing girl” by a male colleague at a meeting. Sadly, this is not an uncommon experience for many women in the workplace, and many audience members chimed in to commiserate on similar instances where they felt minimized or reduced to their gender. Rachelle still finds hope, even in difficult moments, as it has helped her to reach an even broader audience that needs to hear her message.

“When I shared that story on LinkedIn, women reached out saying it had really resonated with them because it was putting words to things that they didn’t feel comfortable voicing because they were afraid of retaliation or backlash. And realizing that I could be a voice for people and that I could let people know that they’re not alone is the single most amazing career moment I’ve ever had.”

Building Success in AEC: Overcoming Setbacks

The panelists continued their discussion by sharing their career journeys and the unique skill sets that propelled them forward. Here’s what each panelist had to say, based on questions from the audience.

Meagan asked Rachelle, “Is there a particular setback on your AEC career journey that ended up either teaching you something or pushing you in a new direction that was unexpected?”

Rachelle’s response:

“I fail all the time and I’m just constantly learning from it. But I specifically look back on some of my early career, and I think I was a terrible communicator. I didn’t know how to talk to people about my challenges, my boundaries, my aspirations, misperceptions of what my role was. So I’m going to lump those all into one because it’s a bunch of really cringe moments that all come together. I had this idea in my head in my early career that if I said yes to everything, if I volunteered for special projects, if I was super woman, the company would take care of me, I would get my raise, I would get my promotion, someone would someone else would come and save me. And I learned the hard way that that’s not true. There’s not going to be someone to save you for many of us. You really have to advocate for yourself and communicate. If you’re giving me another assignment, we need to talk about resources. We need to talk about priorities. If you’re asking me to work weekends or nights that violites a boundary that’s inappropriate to me, it should be inappropriate to everybody. We need to have conversations about that. I didn’t know how to do that in my early career and I’m much better at it now.”

Meagan agreed with Rachelle, and added,

“It’s almost not a negative to say no one’s coming to save you. It’s a positive because that means you don’t have to fit someone else’s mold to be successful. You get to build it yourself.”

You can hear more from Rachelle in her recent Proposal Writing Q&A below, or review her Proposal Writing Dos and Don’ts Checklist.

Building Success in AEC: Owning Your Role

Next, we asked Julie for advice about building confidence in the workplace. Meagan asked Julie, “What is the secret to learning to speak with confidence, especially in a male-dominated industry?”

Julie’s response:

“Own your role. Know that you were hired by your firm for a specific skill set and they value you to do that skill and own it. You are the expert. So if you’re a proposal coordinator, you are the expert for that, be prepared. Make sure that when you go into meetings, you’ve read the rfq or you’ve read the RFP. I’ve been in my share of meetings where I’m the only person in the room that’s actually read it so that I can speak to what the requirements are. I know especially engineers, they love the data, so they love knowing that you know, what you’re doing. And honw your craft. You have to decide if this role is a job for you or if this is your career. And if this is your career, make sure that you continue to learn, be a lifelong learner. “

Julie also emphasized that early in her career, she even tagged along with the engineers to go on project sites and assumed everybody did that. She would listen to the engineers talking to the owners or the operators, and listen to the operators with a marketing hat on as the engineer is listening for technical items. This helped her with collaboration and aligning with technical peers to put pursuits together. She concluded,

“Because they (peers) knew that I paid attention and I spoke with confidence and I spoke with authority, I was able to have a voice in a highly male dominated board room or wherever we were.”

Get more detailed guidance from Julie in her previous webinar, The Top 5 InDesign Techniques Your Proposals Need Now.

Building Success in AEC: Seeking Balance

Following Julie’s notes on building confidence and becoming a force, we shifted gears to ask Lindsay about how she navigates competing demands. Meagan asked, Lindsay “How do we talk about work life, balance with a family? How do you prioritize things? Are you able to or is that still a bit of a fantasy for, the modern woman?”

Lindsay’s response:

“There’s three things you should focus on. First, be very clear on what you want. Not what you should do but what you want to do, your goals, your life plan, etc. When I got really clear on that, it was easier for me to say no to things that didn’t fit in with what I was trying to achieve. Number two, is have a great support system, whatever that looks like. For example, when I lean into my career, my partner kinda leans out of his and takes on more at home and vice versa. And then the third is more of a mindset shift. Society tells us that we need to be building our career, building relationships with our spouse, have an Instagram worthy house, etc. That’s BS because when you’re at work, you’re not at home and you’re feeling guilty about it. And when you’re at your kids events, you’re not at work and you’re feeling guilty about it. You have to be one place or another. You can’t be at both places. So why are you beating yourself up? So I let that go and just said when I’m at work and I’m doing work, I’m not feeling guilty about my kids. And when I’m with my kids, I’m not feeling guilty about not working on something.”

Meagan summarized by adding,

“You can be a single parent, in a complex situation at home, or going through a major transition, but if you don’t know what your priorities are, that’s the differentiator in success. Letting go of your guilt is essential to getting out of your own way.”

Julie offered her insights as well, sharing an important anecdote about how she realized the importance of finding a balance between home and the workplace.

“I was a single mom for seven years as a coordinator when my kids were little. One day at work, my daughter had a school program and it was during the day and I had a pursuit to work on and I was gonna stay at work because I had to do this job. My executive admin came to me and said, Julie, you will never remember the pursuit that you’re working on right now and neither will we, but your daughter will always remember that you weren’t there. That was so profound to me so early in my career that, I left and I went to see her school program. And I remember that, and she remembers that. So I encourage you to set those boundaries and know when to leave work and be with your family.”

Lindsay also discusses this topic further in her podcast episode below, “5 Lies We Tell Ourselves That Poison Productivity.”

Closing Thoughts from Trailblazers 2024

The Trailblazers 2024 webinar went beyond celebrating of women’s achievements in AEC; it was a clarion call for ongoing advocacy, mentorship, and collective action. The narratives shared by our panelists underscored the resilience, creativity, and transformative power of women in the industry.

In reflecting on the event, we are reminded that the journey toward gender equality and empowerment in AEC continues far beyond the webinar. It is up to each of us, all genders, to carry forward the momentum, foster inclusive environments, and advocate for change. 

Together, we can build a brighter, more inclusive future in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction sectors. By supporting each other, sharing our stories, and challenging the status quo, we can pave the way for the next generation of women in AEC, ensuring they have the opportunities, mentorship, and environment necessary to thrive. Let’s carry forward the spirit of International Women’s Day every day, making every effort to recognize, empower, and elevate the women around us in all facets of professional life.

This was just a piece of the broader, insightful conversations and questions sparked throughout the Trailblazers 2024 webinar. To hear the rest of the extended Q&A session and more about each of our esteemed panelists watch the full webinar on-demand.

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